Spinach salad with roasted strawberries and toasted almonds (2 BIG servings)

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Strawberry season arrives much earlier in North Carolina than it does in Pennsylvania. In fact, I think the NC season will be wrapping upjust as I get ready for a week-long visit to PA next week. Salad is a great option for taking advantage of juicy strawberries while they're still available. My family ate a lot of spinach/strawberry salads when I was growing up, and this Williams-Sonoma recipe is an interesting spin-off of an old favorite.

I discovered last year that roasting strawberries makes them sweet(er) and syrupy after testing out a roasted strawberry bruschetta recipe for a dinner party. The Williams-Sonoma recipe uses the same technique, although the strawberries aren't roasted so long that they break down and lose their shape. The recipe is a bit time-consuming to put together, but it isn't difficult, and I think it's flexible enough that you could use a different type of lettuce or cheese if you wanted. It's hard to ruin a salad as pretty and delicious as this!

You will need:

For the berries

  • 1 pint strawberries, washed, hulled, and cut in half lengthwise (or quartered if they're huge)
  • 1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • black pepper

For the dressing

  • 3 Tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/8 cup orange juice
  • 1/4 tsp dried marjoram
  • 1/4 tsp dried basil
  • 1/2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • black pepper

For the salad

  • 4-5 cups baby spinach leaves
  • 1/2 cup toasted almond slivers
  • 1/3 cup shredded cheese (the recipe suggests Romano but I used paper-thin shreds of Robusto)

Steps:

  1. Toss the berries and accompanying ingredients together in a small bowl. Transfer the berries to a roasting pan or sheet. Roast at 400 F for about ten minutes, or until the berries are soft. Allow to cool to room temperature.
  2. Meanwhile, toast the almonds in a dry skillet over medium heat with a pinch of salt. Shake the pan occasionally, making sure the almonds do not burn. Allow them to cool too.
  3. To make the dressing, pour ingredients into a jar with a screw-top lid and shake the heck out of it. (Or, if you eat a lot of salads, get yourself one of these ingenious devices.)
  4. Once the berries and almonds have cooled, divide the spinach evenly between two plates. Top each plate with strawberries, almonds, cheese and dressing. (You could also toss the spinach with the dressing before plating it, if you wish.) Serve immediately.

The Williams-Sonoma site sums up this salad better than I could:

"The flavor of this salad sparkles with the bright acidity of red wine vinegar, its tartness temperated by the sweetness of fresh orange juice. Roasting strawberries with a bit of sugar intensifies their fruitiness and softens their texture, creating a nice counterpoint to the salty cheese and crunchy toasted almonds."

...So why aren't you eating this already?

Mushroom & broccoli pilaf (4 servings)

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I'm judging by the patterns of the last few weeks here: advent of warmer weather + influx of essays to grade + start of new grad class = lack of blog posts.  Sorry about that, folks.

That being said, I am excited to post this newest recipe, although I made it two weeks ago and the photos had been sitting on my camera since then.  This recipe comes from the Williams-Sonoma cookbook whose praises I sang weeks ago.  It sounded more like a side dish than an entree when I first read the recipe, but the combination of rice, chickpeas, and cashews is so filling that it easily works as a main dish.  I think I served this with a green salad.

You will need:

  • 2 1/2 cups mushroom stock (I'm sure vegetable stock would work just fine)
  • A splash of dry white wine
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • Medium yellow onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 cup dry brown rice (NOT instant)
  • 1/2 Tbsp dried thyme leaves
  • 1 small head broccoli, cut into 1-inch florets
  • 1 15-oz can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 cup salted, roasted cashews, coarsely chopped
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes

Steps:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. 
  2. Combine the stock and white wine in a small saucepan or microwaveable measuring cup, and warm either on the stovetop or in the microwave, heating until steaming but not boiling.  Set aside.
  3. Melt the butter in a heavy oven-proof stockpot or Dutch oven over medium heat.  Add the onion and saute until translucent (6-8 minutes).  Add the rice and stir until coated with the butter (about a minute).
  4. Pour in the hot broth/wine.  Add the thyme, about 1/2 tsp salt, and a few grinds of black pepper.  Raise heat to bring to a boil; then cover and set in oven to bake for 40 minutes.
  5. Remove the pot from the oven and stir in the broccoli and chickpeas.  Cover again and bake until the broccoli is tender (10- 15 minutes).  Remove from oven and let stand for 5 minutes, still covered, to steam.
  6. Uncover the pot and fluff the rice with a big spoon.  Fold in the cashews and red pepper flakes; serve immediately.

I think it's a bit brazen to call this "mushroom and broccoli pilaf" when the only mushrooms are in the stock used to cook the rice.  I used Better Than Bouillon mushroom base, but I can't say the dish had a distinctly mushroomy taste.  I was trying to think of a way to add sliced mushrooms to this recipe, but I don't know when I'd add them in.  Maybe I'll experiment with that in the future.

Being a sucker for textural combinations, I loved this dish.  The fluffy rice was complemented by the firm chickpeas and crunchy cashews and broccoli stalks.  It was a little on the salty side, but I didn't even mind.  I might use unsalted cashews next time though.  This dish could be made vegan by substituting oil for the butter and by using a vegan vegetable stock.  I like recipes like this where the work is front-loaded; I can chop my veggies and saute the ingredients and then get schoolwork done while everything finishes in the oven!  Love it!

Peanut-braised noodles (4+ servings)

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If you're looking for a vegetarian cookbook -- either because you're a new vegetarian or just because you're looking to add more vegetarian meals to your repertoire -- Williams-Sonoma's Vegetarian cookbook from their Food Made Fast series is an excellent place to start.  The book includes three sections (30 Minutes Start to Finish, 15 Minutes Start to Finish, and Make More to Store) and the recipes feature simple directions and accessible ingredients.  I feel there are too many pretentious, tree-bark-and-seaweed kinds of meatless cookbooks out there, featuring complicated recipes that aren't even that tasty.  This book, however, is refreshing and user-friendly.

Tonight's recipe comes from the 30 Minutes section.  I've made other peanut noodles recipes before, but this is my favorite so far, mainly because of the sauce. Other recipes I've tried produced a clumpy sauce that didn't coat the noodles evenly, but this one was perfect.  I think the trick must be the coconut milk.

You will need:

  • 1 lb firm tofu
  • ~1/2 lb thin fresh Chinese noodles (Nasoya makes a 9-oz package)
  • 1 head broccoli, cut into small florets
  • 1/4 lb green beans, ends trimmed and beans cut into 1- or 2-inch lengths
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk (I used light coconut milk)
  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 2 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 Tbsp lime juice
  • splash of dark sesame oil

Steps:

  1. Start a large stockpot of water boiling for the noodles.  Meanwhile, drain as much liquid out of the tofu package as you can.  Then, slice the block into 1/2-inch wide slabs.  Lay the slabs on a folded clean towel on top of a plate; press another clean towel on top and apply pressure to squeeze the moisture out.  (I think draining the tofu as much as possible must be the secret to cooking it well.)  Remove the tofu from the towel and slice it into chunks about 1/2 or 3/4-inch thick.  Set aside.
  2. When the water boils, add the noodles and cook according to package directions.  (Mine needed 3 minutes.)  Add the broccoli and green beans to the water for the last 2 minutes.  Drain and rinse; set aside.
  3. Just as you're adding the noodles to the boiling water, warm the coconut milk and peanut butter over medium heat in a large saucepan.  Stir until well mixed; then stir in the pepper flakes, sugar, water, soy sauce, lime juice, and sesame oil.  Add the tofu, mix it into the sauce, and cover.  Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 2 minutes, or until the tofu is warmed through.
  4. Stir the noodles and veggies into the tofu-sauce mixture and toss to coat.  Serve warm.

The original recipe called for snow peas instead of broccoli and green beans, but I just used what I had on hand.  I'm sure you could use other veggies too; carrots or green pepper could be especially delicious.  I think the lime juice is essential here, as it thins out the sauce and adds an invigorating brightness to the dish.

One note: I mistakenly labeled this post as vegan at first, but I've since learned that Nasoya Chinese noodles are not vegan.  You could certainly use a different type of noodles to make this dish vegan, but I just wanted to correct myself there.

Spanish three-bean stew (4 servings)

According to the news, most of the country seems to be experiencing a cold snap right now. What better time to enjoy a hearty bowl of stew? This recipe is chock-full of veggies and features a slow-burn kick from hot smoked paprika.

You will need:

  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 small carrots, chopped
  • 1/2 medium green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 tsp hot smoked Spanish paprika
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1/2 lb green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 14.5-oz can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 14.5-oz can black beans, rinsed and drained

Steps:

  1. Heat 2 Tbsp of the oil over medium heat in a heavy saucepan or Dutch oven. Add the onion and saute until soft and translucent, about 8 minutes.
  2. Add in the remaining tablespoon of oil. Add the carrot and green pepper to the onion and saute for another 5 minutes.
  3. Stir in the paprika and garlic and cook for another minute.
  4. Add the broth, green beans, and kidney/black beans to the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until the green beans are tender-crisp, about 8-10 minutes. (I kept the lid on but left it vented.) Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve.

This is a modified recipe from one of Williams-Sonoma's vegetarian cookbooks. It comes from the "30 Minutes Start to Finish" section of the book, making it a handy weeknight option. The original recipe included a leek, which I didn't have, and didn't include the bell pepper, which I'm glad I decided to add. The recipe also called for only kidney beans, but I used one can of black beans since I had only a single can of kidneys. I'm sure the type of bean doesn't make a huge difference here, although I'd think something soft like cannellini beans might fall apart.

A few quick notes: If you still haven't discovered Better than Bouillon Vegetable Base, try to find it in your local store. I've bought it from a few of the stores around here, and now I don't know what I'd do without it. I used to use chicken broth from a can or box, but then I realized it was stupid to cook vegetarian but still use chicken broth. (Duh.) Boxed/canned vegetable broth just tastes like garlicky saltwater. This stuff is amazing though. It's not pretty to look at -- just to warn you -- but it's convenient and truly tasty. (I want to try the mushroom base next!) Assuming you use a vegan broth, this stew is vegan.

Also, next time you're at Central Market, visit "the spice guy" at the Herb Shop. I found the hot smoked Spanish paprika at his stand, and I can't imagine making this stew with plain old boring paprika. I've bought everything from Cajun spice mix to fine sea salt from this stand. The variety of herbs, spices, and other seasoning products is astounding.

Serve this with crusty Italian bread so you can mop up the spicy broth!